We drive the Adventure limited edition of one of the UK's oldest 4x4s - the iconic Land Rover Defender. Does it still have retro appeal, or should it be put out to pasture?
Words by:Paul BondFirst published: 12th November 2015
Auto Trader Verdict:
As a timely reminder of the brilliance and go-anywhere ability of the Defender, the Adventure edition ticks an awful lot of boxes. Yes, it feels like driving around in an army troop transporter at times, and some buyers will hate many of the foibles that others will no doubt cherish it for. There are some lovely details to admire, and this is one of the few 4x4s left that really can tackle nature at its harshest – but the same is true of cheaper Defenders, too.
Need to know:
One of three new limited editions of Land Rover’s oldest model
Adventure spec includes full underbody protection, chunkier tyres
Limited to 600 cars, on sale now, priced from £43,495
What is it?
A farming tool, a fashion statement, or a faithful companion, depending on who you ask. The Defender is one of those vehicles that now transcends conventional description. Land Rover has built over two million of them over the last 67 years – but it will sadly soon be replaced.
To get us misty-eyed about that imminent departure, Land Rover has come up with a trio of limited editions of its 4x4 stalwart, dubbed the Celebration series. This Adventure Edition showcases the Defender’s legendary ruggedness, the Heritage Edition is finished with some glorious retro design cues, and the Autobiography edition is pitched squarely at those Chelsea residents who demand every luxury, and comes in at a wince-inducing £61,845.
Back to the (slightly) more sensible Adventure model. It comes with the original Land Rover badge, two-tone paint, smart decals, some heavy duty underbody protection, and a set of seriously knobbly Goodyear tyres. Options for the true urban explorer include a roof rack for storing provisions and jerry cans, a step ladder up the back, and a snorkel. We like.
What's it like?
A unique, and uniquely rewarding experience. Imagine being back at school, and arriving in the post-Christmas playground armed with the coolest, most sought-after toy that year. Then imagine the look of pure, unadulterated jealousy written across the faces of your peers.
This is the feeling you get when driving around in an Adventure Edition Defender. It looks like the ultimate boy’s toy, especially with all the off-road paraphernalia attached. People stare at this thing in much the same way they would at an exotic sports car; they want to have a go.
Partly this is down to the extra visual flair provided by the cool two-tone paint, diamond-turned alloys, and decals that set this limited edition apart, but some of the attention is down to the Defender’s sheer enormity; especially in this seven-seat, 110 station wagon guise.
Climbing aboard requires an athletic swing up into the driver’s seat, and it towers over other cars; even those driving vans and Range Rovers will have to crane their necks to look you in the eye. However, as with every Defender, driving the Adventure Edition is split into two halves; when you’re on the road, and when you’re off it.
Restricted to hard Tarmac, some of the nostalgia evaporates as you constantly work the heavy clutch, punch the stiff gear lever into place and wrestle with the slow, heavy wheel in a desperate bid to get the glacial front end moving. The turning circle is gunship-esque, so tight parking spots are strictly off-limits, and the ride is decidedly firm.
Keeping the 2.2-litre diesel engine in the sweet spot in the rev range is another major task. You have to ensure there’s enough torque to maintain decent progress, but keep the revs low enough to avoid arriving at your destination shaken, and with a pounding headache. Getting used to all this can come as a bit of a shock when stepping out of a more modern car, to say the least.
Yet despite the multiple sacrifices made in the name of off-road supremacy, driving this old beast is – whisper it – actually quite good fun. Any journey becomes an Adventure when you have to forward-plan ever corner, crest and braking point, and the Defender keeps you busy at the wheel, and involved in the process of driving in a way that few other SUVs ever will.
It’s harder to forgive the (admittedly understandable) flaws in the interior. The Adventure Edition is actually quite plush inside, which seems at odds with its rough-and-tumble exterior; all seven seats are finished in soft-leather, and there are some creature comforts too. However, the aftermarket stereo is a nightmare to use while driving, and the heater appears to have two settings: ‘off’ or ‘blast furnace’. Luckily, if you do choose the latter, most of that heat will dissipate through the open window that you’ve been forced to lower to stop bumping your elbow into the glass. Despite the imposing dimensions, there’s not a lot of head- or legroom for those sitting in the rear two rows, either, and the deep, tall boot is quite narrow.
Should I get one?
Only 600 versions of the Adventure edition will be made, so if you do want one, then you'd better act quickly. If you are considering this extra-tough Defender, then either you are planning a major expedition to the middle of nowhere, or it’ll be a purely emotional buy.
For the record, the realities of Defender ownership are not for the faint-hearted, with a big yearly tax bill, really poor fuel economy, and those chunky tyres will cost a lot to replace. On the other hand, it will keep its value exceptionally well, which might take some of the sting out of running it.
This particular Defender is great to look at and engaging to drive in its own way. And, if you want one, nothing anyone says will dissuade you from the idea. Still, if it was our money to spend, we’d be tempted by the standard car, as it’s a lot cheaper.
Model: Land Rover Defender 110 Station Wagon Adventure Edition
Engine: 2.2-litre 4cyl diesel, six-speed manual
Power/Torque: 118bhp/266lb ft
0-60mph: 14.7 seconds
Top speed: 90mph
CO2/BIK tax liability: 295g/km/37%
Toyota Land Cruiser The daddy of tough, reliable 4x4s, the Land Cruiser is a lot smarter and bigger
Mercedes G-Class Another charming, and seemingly invincible relic from the automotive past, but pricey
Jeep Wrangler Just as punishing on the road as the Defender, and almost as good off the beaten track